This photograph belonged to my grandfather Arthur LaBrant, who was a homesteader, but I'm not sure who it is. I love this picture though! The overturned sod in the forefront, the solid strength of the oxen, and the ambition of the homesteader as he turned over the sod foot by foot while the prairie stretched out for miles in every direction. It had to be so daunting, but they were determined.
Some homesteaders used teams of horses and others used oxen. Some used mules.
Horses were faster, and they could be saddle horses or work horses on a team. They needed more grain than oxen and mules, and wore out more quickly.
Mules took the heat better than oxen and had more stamina than horses, but were more expensive. Mules have the tendency to stop and analyze a situation, refusing to move if they think it's dangerous. I call this smart, but the term most use is "mule-headed." I've read that it took a special personality of a homesteader to own a team of mules.
Oxen were cheaper and stronger than either horses or mules. They were steady and dependable even if slower. Oxen can thrive on poorer vegetation than horses or mules.
One homesteader said harnessing oxen was faster and easier than horses. The harness setup in the picture above looks rather complicated and time-consuming to me.
Whether he chose a horse or an ox or a mule, a homesteader probably decided with his pocketbook and what he needed it for. Maybe like today, choosing a car because of a design you like ... how much you have to spend ... and how fast you want it to go.
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May 28, 2019
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